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Virtually Stitching the AIDS Memorial Quilt

April 27, 2012

The 91,000-name AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest public art display of its kind, is being digitized so that it can be viewed in its entirety.

Images of the quilt's 47,000 panels have been sewn together virtually using Microsoft Surface, an enhanced commercial computing platform. Viewers of the 60-inch-wide, interactive, touch-screen table can see the quilt, totaling 1.3 million square feet, in its entirety.

The first version of the table will be on display during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, June 27-July 8. On July 20, some physical quilt sections will be laid out on the National Mall -- the whole quilt is too large to fit. Four interactive tables will be placed around the Mall for viewing.

"The idea is that you use the table not as a substitute for looking at the textile panels. You still look at the physical panels -- they're richer than any digital experience. But what our table will allow you to do is search for a particular one. And also get a sense of the scale," said project lead Anne Balsamo, professor of interactive media and communication and senior research fellow at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Innovation Lab.

Viewers also will have the opportunity to add their own reflections, thanks to a mobile application Balsamo is building. "If you walk by a panel that really moves you, you can type in the panel number, go to the digital page, and leave a remembrance," she said. "We want to give people a way to get into the stories of the quilt."

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